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Friday, April 23, 2010

“Actually, I really like that show.”

One of the things I do with BARCC is leading workshops in schools. We led a “respecting boundaries” workshop in a local high school recently; one of the activities in this workshop is an examination of where we get our ideas of what sexual assault looks like, who the perpetrator is, where it happens, et cetera. We make a list of how people visualize rape, and then we ask where that idea comes from. Nine times out of ten these days, people say “Law and Order: SVU”. But this time, that was immediately followed by one of the kids saying “Actually - I really like that show. Is that… okay?”

Which I found to be a very interesting question! So did the other kids in the room, who’d apparently been harboring similar thoughts; there was a chorus of agreement, and one tentative “Is there something wrong with us that we like that?”

I paused, then presented my idea: “A lot of people like that show; I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It’s possible that people are drawn to it because there’s actual justice there, right in that hour - they catch the perpetrator and close the case. It’s not that you like that there’s sexual assault, it’s that you like getting closure.”

There was another round of agreement, and an enthusiastic “They always get ‘em!”

I talk about rape and sexual assault in media a lot. I actually lead panels about it at science fiction conventions - but there I’m mostly talking about how it gets used as a throwaway plot device to traumatize a (usually female) character and is portrayed sensationalistically and unrealistically. I have a whole speech about that! But this is not that speech. Because one of my gripes regarding rape being used as that shorthand is that it isn’t integral to the plot or character, and on shows like SVU, it absolutely is.

Let’s have another example! Because this is certainly not limited to TV.

Everyone knows about my association with BARCC; as I said in my “that girl at the party” post, I’m the person who ends up in rape-culture conversations at parties. So every so often, I get people realizing that something they like is kinda about rape, and apologizing to me for liking it. Which is not necessary, as I do not have to vet the contents of your iPod! It’s not my job, and I don’t have time! :)

But every so often, someone will be playing, say, “Just Dance” by Lady Gaga. Probably singing along. It’s really catchy. And suddenly they’ll look at me with this mortified expression and say “...oh. This - this song is kinda a date rape song, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. Well, specifically about alcohol-facilitated sexual assault.” I’m technical like that. It’s never specified in the song whether Lady Gaga knows this guy, but it’s totally blatant that she’s far too drunk to be able to consent, and he absolutely intends to take advantage of that. (Interestingly enough, Gaga did a sequel to “Just Dance”; it’s called “Monster”, and it makes the assault explicit. “I wanna just dance but he took me home instead/uh-oh, there was a monster in my bed.”)

“I just like the beat.”

“Well, it’s fun to dance to.” It is.

The fact that something talks about rape doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to like it. As a matter of fact, if it provokes that reaction in you, causes you to think about the issue - that’s a good thing! Absolutely let’s engage in conversation about intoxication and lack of consent!

A friend mentioned something similar on Facebook yesterday; he’d been singing “Sex Type Thing” by Stone Temple Pilots and realized that, hey, a) this song is totally about rape, and b) one of his friends who happens to be a rape crisis counselor (not me) was in the room. He seemed rather mortified. Personally, I always took “Sex Type Thing” to be a pretty strong statement against rape; STP really highlights the monstrousness of the perpetrator’s thought process, throwing the horror and lack of regard for other people into a relief too sharp to ignore. I don’t think it glorifies rape at all.

But I love that it sparks that thought process and that conversation.

And we need that thought and that conversation. We’re saturated with rape culture. We’re soaking in it! So examining specific aspects of it is a very good thing. Explore it. Talk about it. Take it apart and see how it works. The more we dissect it, the better we understand it.

Posted by Shira on 04/23 at 09:11 AM


As always, you are my hero.

Also, there was research done that showed when rape in popular media was punished like in SVU, it does not perpetuate the rape culture. I'll see if I can dig that article up for you.
Posted by GrntSerendipity  on  04/23  at  10:00 AM
I think it's that last paragraph that really makes the point - I love a LOT of stuff that's borderline unacceptable. Certain anime TV shows, certain movies, some of my nerdly loves: they have serious artistic merit! They are awesome in many ways! Sometimes, they contain ideas, images, or content that is either ABOUT rape, or in really bad situations, PRO-rape.

I can still respect that art for the virtues it DOES have, and still even be a sexual-violence prevention dude, as long as I'm thinking about the messages those shows/movies/stuff are providing me, and being critical of the ones that are bullshit.
Posted by Dave  on  04/23  at  10:14 AM
As a witness to Shira's expert handling of this challenging question, I think this post expands on that answer brilliantly. Media literacy (the public health term for the type of critical viewing of media you all are discussing) is a really important skill to build in children (and adults for that matter).

I wholeheartedly agree that one can enjoy media that is supportive of rape culture. I think it also highlights the point that not everyone is a critical consumer of media, which can have very real effects on a person's worldview. Communications theory points to a few hypothesized effects of exposure to violence (in general) in the media, collectively called "the mean world syndrome." The idea is essentially that this exposure results in normalization of violence, desensitization to the consequences of violence, and a sense of insecurity and vulnerability resulting in a heightened mistrust of others.

I wonder if there should be a bigger push for school systems to incorporate media literacy into their curricula, especially considering media impact the 'scripts' young people have for a vast array of behaviors and situations, such as sexual health and drug/alcohol use. Cultivating that literacy would really aid in starting those important conversations mentioned.
Posted by Lisa  on  04/23  at  03:12 PM
Thank you for this. I have -never- liked SVU. In fact, I don't think I've been able to watch an entire episode. It's always boggled me that there's an entire SHOW devoted to showing.. well, the Special Victims Unit crimes. Y'know, KIDS. I don't try to tell anyone they CAN'T like it, but I've never been able to wrap my brain around how a sane person could.**

Until now. That the crime occurs and justice is brought and dealt with in one episode. (Most of the time. I think it may not have helped that the episode I saw the most of was an unresolved one.) I don't think I'll ever be able to tolerate being in the same room while it's on, but it no longer worries the more fragile places in my head that people do. Thank you for that.

**I do, however, still maintain that it is a vastly inappropriate thing to have on the tv in an ER waiting room.
Posted by Rin  on  04/24  at  10:29 PM

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